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St. Petersburg Tenants Union seeks to expand renter protections




Founding member William Kilgore, center, and others from the St. Petersburg Tenants Union. Photo provided.

Members of the St. Petersburg Tenants Union recently joined a city council session to advocate for increased renter protections, citing increasing rent and disparities between landlords and tenants. 

William Kilgore, the union’s founding member, told the council that the crux of St. Petersburg’s housing issues center on an “imbalance of power” between renters and landlords. The Tenants Union has approximately six members who work to support fellow renters, and canvas “under-maintained” apartment complexes for new recruits.

“The point of the group is to get tenants together and get them to realize our potential,” Kilgore explained to the St. Pete Catalyst.

One of the union’s top priorities is amending the Pinellas Tenant’s Rights to require 30 days of notice for evictions in month-to-month rentals, instead of the current 15. Their long-term goal is to gain enough members to collectively bargain for better living conditions and to “raise consciousness” about housing disparities in the area. 

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the federal moratorium on evictions for those unable to pay rent to June 30. The moratorium was scheduled to end today (March 31).

According to the listing and data compiling website RENTcafe, St. Petersburg rental prices increased 3 percent over the last year. While this may be no surprise for residents, the slow rise indicates how in-demand Pinellas County real estate remained as the pandemic-caused recession lowered rents in historically expensive cities like San Francisco.

Mayor Rick Kriseman expressed support for affordable housing in his State of the City Address in February, and pointed to downtown St. Pete’s Pier project as an example of how redevelopment fueled jobs and stimulated the city’s economy throughout the pandemic. 

“The sooner we can provide jobs and affordable places to live to our residents, the better,” Kriseman said.

According to the University of South Florida’s 2021 E-Insights Report, the poverty rate in St. Petersburg is falling, but rent and income inequality are increasing.

Acknowledging the growing cost of living, other members of the Tenant Union reiterated Kilgore’s propositions at the March 18 council meeting, and called for citywide expansions of existing renter protection laws.

The group asked that Ordinance 419-H, which requires developers to provide 90 days’ notice for residents of multi-family units to vacate, also include all other home and apartment types. 

They also asked for amendments to Ordinance 388-H, which they claim allows landlords to discriminate against renters based on what they consider “lawful income.”

Kilgore emailed a letter to the St. Petersburg City Council outlining all of these propositions, and has been working with council members Gina Driscoll, Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Amy Foster who, according to Kilgore, have all been receptive to the propositions.

Driscoll told the Catalyst in an email that she supports the union as a “strong voice for residents.” Collaboration with city government is something Kilgore looks forward to as the union develops, and a way to avoid possible conflict in the future. 

Nationwide, a network of tenant unions and housing activists have become increasingly organized during the pandemic.Their demonstrations have put a spotlight on evictions and, in some cases, led to standoffs with law enforcement. 

Notably, the Red House Eviction Defense, a loose group of housing activists, successfully prevented police from evicting the Kinney family in Portland, Oregon last December. 

Members of the defense barricaded and occupied the house during a standoff lasting long enough and receiving enough media attention for the family to raise money through GoFundMe to pay off its debt. 

Kilgore says he wants to avoid conflict, and plans to continue developing his proposals with city council members like Driscoll in the near future.

“As a renter myself, I appreciate their efforts and look to them as a resource for developing sound policy to strengthen renters’ rights and improve landlord-tenant relationships,” Driscoll said.



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